Bishop Richard Williamson is a member of the ultra- conservative Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). In late January, Pope Benedict XVI decided to lift the excommunications of four members of the SSPX, Bishop Williamson among them. Just days prior to the retraction of his excommunication, Bishop Williamson said on Swedish television that he didn't believe the Holocaust took place and said that between 200,000 and 300,000 Jews died in Nazi concentration camps instead of the commonly accepted 6 million. The resulting scandal has led to doubts about Benedict's leadership of the Catholic Church, though Benedict last week demanded that Williamson recant his statements.
SPIEGEL Interview with Bishop Richard Williamson
'I Will Not Travel to Auschwitz'
Bishop Richard Williamson's denial of the Holocaust has done serious damage to the Catholic Church. In an e-mail and fax exchange with SPIEGEL, the ultra-conservative bishop says that he is willing to "review the historical evidence."
SPIEGEL: The Vatican is demanding that you retract your denial of the Holocaust, and it is threatening to not allow you to resume your activities as a bishop. How will you react?
Williamson: Throughout my life, I have always sought the truth. That is why I converted to Catholicism and became a priest. And now I can only say something, the truth of which I am convinced. Because I realize that there are many honest and intelligent people who think differently, I must now review the historical evidence once again. I said the same thing in my interview with Swedish television: Historical evidence is at issue, not emotions. And if I find this evidence, I will correct myself. But that will take time.
Seminarians and nuns walking in a procession at the La Reja Catholic Seminary just outside of Buenos Aires. Bishop Richard Williamson was head of the seminary until being removed over the weekend.
SPIEGEL: How can an educated Catholic deny the Holocaust?
Williamson: I addressed the subject in the 1980s. I had read various writings at the time. I cited the Leuchter report (eds. note: a debunked theory produced in the 1980s claiming erroneously that the Nazi gas chambers were technically impractical) in the interview, and it seemed plausible to me. Now I am told that it has been scientifically refuted. I plan now to look into it.
SPIEGEL: You could travel to Auschwitz yourself.
Williamson: No, I will not travel to Auschwitz. I've ordered the book by Jean-Claude Pressac. It's called "Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers." A printout is now being sent to me, and I will read it and study it.
SPIEGEL: The Society of Saint Pius X has set an ultimatum for the end of February. Are you not risking a break with the group?
Williamson: In the Old Testament, the Prophet Jonah tells the sailors when their ship is in distress: " Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you." The Society has a religious mission that is suffering because of me. I will now examine the historic evidence. If I do not find it convincing, I will do everything in my power to avoid inflicting any further harm on the Church and the Society.
SPIEGEL: What does the repeal of the excommunication by Pope Benedict XVI mean to you?
Williamson: We just want to be Catholic, nothing else. We have not developed our own teachings, but are merely preserving the things that the Church has always taught and practiced. And in the sixties and seventies, when everything was changed in the name of this Council (eds. note: the Second Vatican Council), it was suddenly a scandal. As a result, we were forced to the margins of the church, and now that empty churches and an aging clergy make it clear that these changes were a failure, we are returning to the center. That's the way it is for us conservatives: we are proved right, as long as we wait long enough.
BISHOP RICHARD WILLIAMSON
SPIEGEL: People at the Vatican claimed that they didn't know you. Is that true?
Williamson: Most contacts pass through Bishop Fellay and the General Council, of which I am not a member. But three of us four bishops attended a private dinner with Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos in 2000. It was more about getting to know each other, but we certainly talked about theological issues and even a bit of philosophy. The cardinal was very friendly.
SPIEGEL: The Second Vatican Council counts as one of the great achievements of the Catholic Church. Why do you not fully recognize it?
Williamson: It is absolutely unclear what we are supposed to recognize. An important document is called "Gaudium et spes," or Joy and Hope. In it, the writers rhapsodize about the ability of mass tourism to bring people together. But one can hardly expect a conservative society to embrace package tours. It discusses fears and hardships. And then a nuclear war between the superpowers is mentioned. You see, much of this is already outdated. These Council documents are always ambiguous. Because no one knew what exactly this was supposed to mean, everyone started doing as he wished shortly after the Council. This has resulted in this theological chaos we have today. What are we supposed to recognize, the ambiguity or the chaos?
SPIEGEL: Are you actually aware that you are dividing the Church with your extreme views?
Williamson: Only violation of the dogmas, that is, the infallible principles, destroys faith. The Second Vatican Council declared that it would proclaim no new dogmas. Today the liberal bishops act as though it were some sort of all-encompassing super-dogma, and they use it as justification for a dictatorship of relativism. This contradicts the texts of the Council.
SPIEGEL: Your position on Judaism is consistently anti-Semitic.
Williamson: St. Paul put it this way: The Jews are beloved for the sake of Our Father, but our enemies for the sake of the gospel.
SPIEGEL: Do you seriously intend to use Catholic tradition and the Bible to justify your anti-Semitism?
Williamson: Anti-Semitism means many things today, for instance, when one criticizes the Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip. The Church has always understood the definition of anti-Semitism to be the rejection of Jews because of their Jewish roots. This is condemned by the Church. Incidentally, this is self-evident in a religion whose founders and all important individuals in its early history were Jews. But it was also clear, because of the large number of Jewish Christians in early Christianity, that all men need Christ for their salvation -- all men, including the Jews.
SPIEGEL: The pope will travel to Israel soon, where he plans to visit the Holocaust Memorial. Are you also opposed to this?
Williamson: Making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a great joy for Christians. I wish the Holy Father all the best on his journey. What troubles me about Yad Vashem is that Pope Pius XII is attacked there, even though no one saved more Jews during the Nazi period than he did. For instance, he had baptismal certificates issued for persecuted Jews to protect them against arrest. These facts have been distorted to mean exactly the opposite. Otherwise, I hope that the pope will also have an eye and a heart for the women and children who were injured in the Gaza Strip, and that he will speak out in support of the Christian population in Bethlehem, which is now walled in.
SPIEGEL: Your statements have caused great injury and outrage in the Jewish world. Why don't you apologize?
Williamson: If I realize that I have made an error, I will apologize. I ask every human being to believe me when I say that I did not deliberately say anything untrue. I was convinced that my comments were accurate, based on my research in the 1980s. Now I must review everything again and look at the evidence.
SPIEGEL: Do you at least recognize universal human rights?
Williamson: When human rights were declared in France, hundreds of thousands were killed throughout France. Where human rights are considered an objective order for the state to implement, there are constantly anti-Christian policies. When it comes to preserving the individual's freedom of conscience against the democratic state, then human rights perform an important function. The individual needs these rights against a country that behaves like a Leviathan. But the Christian concept of the state is a different one, so that the Christian theories of human rights emphasize that freedom is not an end in itself. The point is not freedom from something, but freedom for something. For good.
SPIEGEL: Your statements and the lifting of your excommunication have triggered protests worldwide. Can you understand this?
Williamson: A single interview on Swedish television has dominated the news for weeks in Germany. Yes, it does surprise me. Is this the case with all violations of the law in Germany? Hardly. No, I am only the tool here, so that action can be taken against the SSPX and the pope. Apparently Germany's leftist Catholicism has not yet forgiven Ratzinger for becoming pope.
Interview conducted by Peter Wensierski and Steffen Winter
Interview conducted in German and translated into English by Christopher Sultan